10 ideas for using social collaboration to enhance employee training

Yesterday, I spent some time brainstorming ways that social collaboration could be applied throughout the entire process of developing, offering, facilitating, and tracking a training program. Here’s my idea board, where I gave myself permission to wish beyond my current capabilities. Each idea starts with recognizing problems or opportunities that I’ve experienced recently in my role as a Learning & Development Consultant, and then finding a social collaboration tool that could improve upon this experience.

1. Content Gathering and Course Development – Wikis

Today: My most recent Learning & Development project had more than 30 subject matter experts contributing their technical knowledge to different aspects of a new training program. I needed to interview each person individually, write first drafts of the technical content, and meet with each person again several times to review and revise the content before it could be incorporated into the training materials.

How it could be: Use a wiki to allow multiple subject matter experts to contribute and modify content for use in a training program. The wiki could exist in an intranet environment where training developers have administrator rights and subject matter experts have contributor access. The administrator would control each contributor’s level of access and monitor content activity. Each contribution or modification by a subject matter expert could be reviewed and approved before it becomes a part of the master draft. Messages could be sent from the application to remind contributors of content deadlines. Questions or discussions between the developer and subject matter experts could take place in a sidebar within the application.

2. Course Research and Registration – Reviews and Ratings

Today: If I search for ‘Cash Flow’ in the my company’s LMS, it presents me with 29 courses. Twelve of these options appear to offer information that might be valuable to a team member who wants to improve their skills for analyzing cash flow of corporations. How does an employee choose one? Because of this, I find that employees rarely do their own course research in our LMS. Instead, they pick up the phone and call one of their Learning & Development Consultants for recommendations, or they find popular courses through an external industry organization.

How it could be: Allow employees and business line Learning & Development Consultants to review, rate, and/or recommend training courses that they have taken or are standard for employees in a particular role. This will help people identify what is specific to their learning needs or what is popular among peers in their business group.

3. Introductions, Logistical Questions, and Pre-work – Forums

Today: In many cases, learners are contacted by a course administrator before reaching the classroom or accessing the virtual session. As soon as the learner registers, they receive a confirmation email with an instructor bio, class logistical details, and sometimes pre-work. If any of this information sparks a question or excitement, the learner has no immediate outlet. The opportunity to express this may be forgotten by the learner before the course actually begins.

How it could be: Offer a pre-training forum for the instructor and learners to make class introductions. If a participant has a question about logistics or the pre-work assignment, they can ask in the moment before the thought passes. Through this experience, everyone involved can begin the class with some basic connections already made and the top layer of ice broken.

4. Self-study Reading – Collaborative Bookmarking, Highlighting, and Sticky Notes

Today: An employee is recommended a book by their manager or a colleague. If they’re lucky, they can borrow a copy, or their manager approves the expense of buying a copy. As the employee reads the book, they dog ear pages, highlight a few paragraphs, and take some notes in margins. When they finish the book, it is placed on their office credenza, and it sits there proudly for years without being opened again.

How it could be: Their company could have a library of licensed online books that are popular among employees and relevant to many areas of professional development. Employees could ‘check out’ the books and read them via a web browser on their laptops or mobile devices. The same online book could be checked-out by hundreds of people at one time. The web application that hosts these books would allow readers to virtually bookmark a page that is important to them, highlight a motivational paragraph, or include a note with their own comments. Over time, the online book would accumulate thousands of annotations. Employees could decide to turn these on or off while reading according to their preference. They may choose to browse comments, search for popular keywords, or skip to pages that received the most reader interaction.

5. Learn from Teaching (Teach Back) – Blog Communities

Today: To avoid death by lecture, some trainers use a technique called a ‘teach back’ to get learners more involved in the transfer of knowledge. Trainers break-up a large amount of written content and ask each participant to read an assigned part independently. Then one by one, participants take over the podium or conference line for a few minutes to convey what they just learned about their topic.

How it could be: Materials provided in a training course are valuable and usually present the most popular or commonly used perspective on a topic. However, it’s rare that course materials are the only perspective on a topic or the only source for the similar information. For nearly every topic, there is a wealth of information available online in blog communities and across the web. While it’s the trainer’s job to convey the course content as it is written, why not allow participants to also discover content on their own and introduce alternate perspectives to the discussion? We can find a way to engage learners through discovery and teach back of what they discovered.

6. E-Learning Quizzes – Sharing, Commenting, and Trending Keywords

Today: When taking an asynchronous e-learning course (or EKOD), there are typically quiz questions throughout or at the end of the course. To receive course credit, an employee must answer a certain percentage of the scored questions correctly. While scored quiz questions are important for certain types of e-learning (especially compliance training), it demands a participant’s attention with the threat of failure, which isn’t true engagement. Sometimes open-ended questions are incorporated into e-learning, which have the potential to be more engaging. However, participants don’t often put much thought into these questions, since their answers vanish as soon as they finish the course and nothing useful comes of them.

How it could be: Build widgets into e-learning quizzes that allow for commenting, sharing, and trending keywords. Answers to open-ended questions could be tracked, and after a participant submits their own response, they could see trending keywords or a sample of recent answers from other participants. In addition to answering the question, participants could also comment on answers that others provided. Have you ever felt like you just answered a trick question during an e-learning course? Did you wish you could have expressed your surprise over the unexpected answer? Write a comment about it.

7. Quizzing Other Learners – Forums

Today: A typical learning activity for many in-person courses is to have participants create quiz questions for their fellow classmates to answer. This works especially well for two-day or multi-day courses. At the end of the first day, everyone thinks of one or more quiz questions from the content that was covered that day and writes on a note card. The trainer collects the note cards, reviews them that evening, edits questions for clarity, and creates a quiz that will be used as a refresher to start the second day of class.

How it could be: Use an online forum where the trainer has administrator rights to approve all content before it becomes visible to users. Have course participants submit their quiz questions as separate forum topics. The trainer will review the questions from the administrator page, edit for clarity, publish them, and send a link to all participants when the quiz is ready to be taken. Participants provide answers as a reply to each question in the forum. The trainer will not approve any replies until all participants have submitted an answer to each question. Once all answers are in, the trainer will publish them, and participants will be able to view and comment on each other’s responses. This would be most effective with quiz questions that require thoughtful responses versus questions with clearly right or wrong answers.

8. Course Completion Transcripts – Social Timeline

Today: An LMS transcript is a personal record of the internal courses that an employee has completed. The employee can view it, maybe their manager can view it, and the Compliance departments track completion of required courses.

How it could be: Learners could share courses that they have taken on an internally searchable profile. The courses could be displayed as a visual timeline or learning path. Learners could choose which courses from their transcript they want displayed, suppress routine courses (like compliance training), and manually add any courses that were taken by external training providers. Other team members could search their profile, comment, like, and ask questions.

9. Course Alumni Communities – Interest Networks

Today: Many employees participant in internal leadership programs or multi-day courses that are interesting to them. Often times they make meaningful connections with other employees who share an interest or similar experience. At the end of the program some participants mean to stay in touch. They exchange business cards and then return to the demands of their job. Distractions pile up, and that casual ‘hello’ email to their new friendly acquaintance never happens.

How it could be: At the completion of a leadership or training program, the facilitator could provide an online interest network or group that is only open to alumni of a specific training session or all participants over time for a reoccurring course. This allows for an open channel of communication between participants and gives an afterlife to discussions about the session topic or participant experiences.

10. Share Learning with Manager and Team – Enterprise Social Community.

Today: When employees attend a conference or training seminar, it’s a common practice for managers to request that they come back with something to share in their next team meeting or call. This way their entire team gets to benefit from what they company paid them to learn.

How it could be: A manager could also ask their employee to summarize the key points they found valuable from a learning event and post them in an enterprise social space for the entire company to read, comment on, and question. How’s that for cost/benefit?

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